A Better Driver Referral Program

As many of you know, recruiting and retention has become a passion of mine. Having progressed from the Driver’s seat to the C-suite, I have seen first-hand what a united workforce looks like. Conversely (unfortunately), I have also witnessed what can happen when that workforce takes their ‘eyes off the road’. The one area I would like to focus on today is understanding the recruiting and retention process from the Driver’s side.

One significant thing many companies fail to acknowledge is that some drivers sincerely do not believe that you know how to run your own business. I have been behind the wheel for a million miles myself, I can tell you first this hand. Your drivers believe that you will, if given the opportunity, hire them right out of a job. They believe that by your hiring more drivers, their miles will be threatened and their livelihood will be impacted. Don’t believe that? It is the number one reason they do not recruit for you – guaranteed. To protect their paycheck, they will tell other drivers to stay away – ‘money is no good’, ‘no miles’, ‘companies a hard place to work at etc.’

So how do you get around that? As a President, here is what my senior managers and I did – we educated them. Part of my managers daily responsibility was to spend fifteen minutes each morning, and afternoon in our driver’s room, which gave them an opportunity to discuss such matters person to person. I used to tell them that this was the most important thirty minutes of our entire work day. To talk about their family, kids’ sports, community events, whatever. People talk to people, I also wrote a memo to the drivers informing them of our customer’s needs, and that they weren’t prepared to deal with multiple vendors to service their accounts, it cost them too much money. I told them bluntly, if we couldn’t keep up with our customers volumes, they would find trucking companies that would, in other words if they’re not helping our recruiting efforts, they are potentially undermining their livelihood not protecting it.

Implementing a Driver Recruitment program has benefits in terms of the number of good candidates that come your way, as well as the benefit of engaging some of your existing drivers and owner operators in contributing to the company in a meaningful way. Many do want to help, more than you might think, they have chosen to spend their careers with your company, why not.

For our company, once we got the program up and running,we were getting 52% of new drivers through the Driver Recruiter channel. First of all, we asked for volunteers, then we screened them for the role. We looked at whether or not they were good drivers who represented the kind of people we wanted in the company. We looked at their attitude and how they were at talking to other people – were they amiable, honest and positive?

We found that there were different things motivating our driver recruiter volunteers. Some were simply in it for the money, which was fine, as long as they screened well. Others like the recognition, because this was a role with a profile, and the reward was more than just money. We recognized good achievers at our Christmas party, company newsletters and online, presented top recruiters with a plaque etc. And then there were those drivers who simply responded to the call for help. They just wanted to contribute.

A critical part of the program focused on training the drivers for the role. It is important to help build their confidence to prepare them with the skills and tools to succeed. For our program, we gave the drivers training to help them in terms of what kind of candidates they should target, what to emphasize about our company values and objectives, as well as to be completely honest about the demands of our business and customer obligations. We gave them training in conversational sales, we gave them business cards identifying them as Recruiters – and made sure our Value Statement was printed on the back. This was to be a point of discussion with any candidates. And then we put decals on their truck saying “I am a recruiter – talk to me.” This was a popular program with our drivers.

Since this was a valuable service, we were willing to pay for it. Some positions are harder than others to fill so we scaled our compensation to the type of opening being filled. It will be different for you, but in our case, at the time, we paid $2,000 for a flatbed candidate and $1,000 for a van driver.

This could represent a significant boost to income for successful driver recruiters. We had drivers who were responsible for up to 6 new recruits in one year. They pocketed between $6,000 and $12,000 extra that year. And he received solid recognition within and beyond our company.

Pivotal to our program’s success was the payment method we used to compensate our driver and owner operator recruiters. I have seen various programs like deferring payment until after a certain probation period, or so many cents per mile for a determined period of time (or miles) – and even sliding scales over a year or two! For my money, and our results speak for themselves, pay up front once you have hired a candidate. This is most impactful to the drivers – and to any drivers who are not now, but could become recruiters for you. Cash in hand speaks volumes.

Our logic was that once a candidate came our way it is up to us to determine if this would be a good driver for our company.  We put the candidate through our normal hiring/screening process. If we bring that candidate on and it did not work out, that is on us, why should that be on the recruiter, we made the decision to proceed, we made the mistake if the candidate doesn’t work out and we benefit if they success. The driver recruiter did his or her job in bring the opportunity to us. Payment is due, want to support driver recruiting by drivers this is how to do it.

Your drivers will be uplifted by the rewards, recognition and sense of additional purpose that their role will now mean. While delivering benefits to the drivers and to the company, we are also mining just another avenue for building that sense of belonging and community that is the foundation of everything when it comes to Driver Retention.